Jun Ha Park reaches for the glistening blade in front of him. Shoulders hunched, forehead creased in concentration, he slices through a fillet of salmon in a matter of seconds, his right hand rising and falling like a gently rolling wave.
Soon after, he picks up a wad of rice from a nearby container, lifts his hand into the air, lets his wrist go limp, and – his forefingers resting on his thumb so that his hand looks a bit like a shadow puppet – he massages the wad of rice into a compact ball. Park repeats the process until he’s lined up a handful of these rice balls on a navy ceramic dish, then, using chopsticks, he lays slices of salmon on top of each one. He moves at speed.
“His concentration … it’s zen-like,” says restaurant owner Daniel Russo of the ex-Sake and Nobu chef. “He’s our superstar.”
Working at an American-oak bench, lit by two angular pendants, Park’s fluid movements inject a liveliness into Russo’s first solo venture (he’s also been involved with Argy Bargy, a pizza restaurant, and St Kilda’s Saint Hotel). Textured concrete walls pair with white-and-grey terrazzo flooring, timber banquettes and a smattering of blue tiles, but overall the aesthetic is stripped back.
Upstairs, two more dining rooms – one public, one private – stay true to the minimalist vibe, with a little more warmth courtesy of wooden floorboards and an original fireplace.
The space matches the style of the food – a combination of traditional Japanese fare (karaage chicken with tonkatsu mayo, tuna tataki with wasabi cream, soba noodle salad and handmade pork gyoza) and more adventurous alternatives, such as a curried beef brisket doughnut topped with yuzu salt and coconut shavings.
There are also near-translucent slices of elegant kingfish paired with a deep, musky truffle vinaigrette you can smell as soon as soon it hits the table; poached prawns and pickled daikon sandwiched between two rounds of milk loaf; and Wagyu tataki. The beef has a marble score of five, and the flavour is reminiscent of a sort of Japanese salami. It’s paired with strands of fried potato, celeriac and green apple, which cuts through the beef’s evenly dispersed fat.
For dessert, there’s an Iced Vovo mille-feuille with raspberries and marshmallow. And to drink there’s Asahi on tap; an international wine list comprising familiar Australian drops and slightly less familiar European ones (pinot blanc from Baden, Germany); and a handful of predominantly light, floral cocktails.
There’s also a small selection of sake and umeshu, which, together with Park’s theatrics, the minimalist decor and moody lighting, makes this a prime candidate for your next date night.
14 Beatty Avenue, Armadale
(03) 9822 7941
Tue to Sun 5pm–late
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on February 21, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.